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Mayor Romero's 'State of the City' included in annual study of speeches

Tucson Mayor Regina Romero had a say in the 2022 State of the Cities report by the National League of Cities, with her voice included in an annual study of 60 American mayors and the priorities facing their cities.

The group analyzed mayoral speeches between October 2021 and April 2022 and included Tucson Mayor Regina Romero’s "State of the City" address from December in their annual report on local governments.

The mayors came from cities both large and small across the United States, but more than half their speeches mentioned the environment, housing, health, public safety, development, economy and infrastructure, the group said.

Infrastructure came up in 53 of the mayoral speeches, or 83% of them, including in Romero’s, which mentioned the topic six times. Four of those times, Romero was talking about federal infrastructure dollars as she delivered her Dec. 2 speech less than a month after President Joe Biden signed the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

“Recognizing a dire need to fix our roads and bridges, repair our water systems and close the digital divide, this year, mayors highlighted funding infrastructure demands as their number one priority,” the report read. “As municipal governments across the country prepare to apply for, receive and invest in federal and state grants to fund these demands through the BIL, city leaders are already planning for the most effective ways they can use these resources to bring America’s communities fully into the 21st century.”

Building infrastructure with an 'equity lens'

The report featured Romero’s line, “we are using an equity lens to strategically invest in programs, services and infrastructure” as a pull quote. Romero said that “equity lens” will help Tucson “along our path to full recovery (from COVID) in a way that will make a difference in the quality of life for EVERY SINGLE Tucsonan.”

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the American Rescue Plan, a COVID-19 pandemic relief package, were seen as “critical, unprecedented funding” by the report, which said both pieces of legislation will be “going directly to our communities and informing local leaders’ priorities.”

“From this year’s state of the city speeches, it’s clear that our city leaders are reaping the benefits of those hard-won efforts with the ultimate goal of making our cities, towns and villages better, more equitable places to live,” the NLC report said.

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Attitudes about infrastructure spending were more positive, the report found, compared with the NLC report from 2021, when “91% of local officials said insufficient funding was the top factor impacting their decision making on local infrastructure projects.”

Romero’s mention of an “equity lens” also resonated with America’s mayors, who “are laser-focused on creating equitable outcomes for their residents,” according to the report.

“The pandemic has laid bare the vast inequities and racial disparities in our country that can only be addressed with policies that place equity and inclusion front and center,” the report read. “By focusing on deploying resources equitably, leaders can raise the baseline for everyone in their cities, helping to rectify historic wrongs that have been placed on communities of color.”

This office needs a little equity

Like Tucson, many cities have also created executive offices in their city halls dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion in two years. Tucson has their Office of Equity while cities in the report such as Lincoln, Neb., Eugene, Ore., and Oklahoma City, Okla., have similar offices.

Mayors such as Romero are also making equity a part of their long-term development plans. “Many mayors are emphasizing community development designed to promote equitable outcomes in their cities’ economic development plans,” the report said.

The report gave examples of equity in strategic development plans. One is in Santa Monica, Calif., which will spend $1.3 million on an “emergency food pantry,” and another is in Charleston, W.V., which is working with the nonprofits to improve access to housing, jobs and social services in poorer parts of their city.

Despite their willingness to spend more on equity and open new offices dedicated to the value, cities are losing workers from the “Great Resignation,” a trend of employees leaving industries en masse since early 2021.

“The ‘Great Resignation’ has impacted hiring and retention in government offices, in the service sector and all throughout the economies of our local communities,” the report said. “Municipal governments are experiencing labor loss at an even higher rate than other sectors, with a 4.48% loss in labor from March 2020 – March 2022.”

The same has been true for the city of Tucson, which is short staffed in their water department, park maintenance and 911 dispatch. They even had trouble filling the top spot of their Office of Equity for almost two years and are now offering student loan forgiveness as an incentive to bring employees on.

“Cities are increasing pay and other benefits in many departments'' to improve recruitment and retention, according to the report. Several cities from the report are increasing starting salaries or expanding benefits such as Kingston, N.Y., Helena, Mont., and Detroit, Mich.

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The National League of Cities

The largest share of mayoral speeches looked at for the report were from mayors in cities with populations below 50,000 people, with 24 mayors coming from such cities. 19 came from states in the West such as California, Arizona or Nevada. 18 came from the Midwest or South while 5 came from the Northeast.

The only other Arizona mayor whose speech was included was from David Ortega of Scottsdale. San Diego and San Jose, Calif., were the two largest cities in the report. Several states had no cities represented, including Hawaii, Alaska and Idaho, among others.

The NLC works with municipal governments across the country on studies and assistance programs. The 2022 State of the Cities report is the sixth such study by the NLC.

Tucson was selected by the NLC last year as one of eight cities for the ​​Equitable Economic Mobility Initiative. The initiative, which helped Tucson’s Thrive in the 05 program, grouped local governments across the U.S. together to test out and discuss social services aimed at low-income communities.

President Biden spoke at the NLC conference in Washington D.C. on March 16 to tout the success of the $1.9 trillion ARPA pandemic relief package that sent $1 billion to American cities and counties and almost $136 million to Tucson. His half-hour speech was attended by 2,000 local officials, including close to 100 from Arizona cities.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Mayor Regina Romero delivering her 2021 'State of the City' speech.

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